Sunset Chevrolet growth restrictions to get 2nd look

Staff writerNovember 16, 2013 

Richard Oswood looks over his fence at property owned by Sunset Chevrolet in Sumner. Oswood's fence touches property acquired by the dealership earlier this year that is used for a marketing office and employee parking. Neighbors say they had little knowledge that the business had acquired the property.

LUI KIT WONG — Staff photographer Buy Photo

Sunset Chevrolet, one of the most prominent businesses in Sumner, soon could have new hurdles to clear before it can expand, which it has done over the last three years and is preparing to do again.

The city’s Planning Commission unanimously voted last month to propose sweeping restrictions in response to an outcry from neighbors, who say Sunset was allowed to grow previously without notice or public process.

But the absence of dealership representatives during the public meeting led the city to grant Sunset an unusual courtesy — another chance to appeal to planning commissioners, followed by a possible re-vote by the commission.

The restrictions, if approved, would affect how the car dealership conducts business and possibly limit how it uses recently purchased properties. The changes would require final approval by the City Council.

Sunset, located at 910 Traffic Ave., is working to convert two residential parcels into lots for employee and customer parking after recently finishing an expansion that started in 2010.

City staff proposed the restrictions in response to residents’ concerns.

Richard Oswood, a nearby homeowner who says the city is allowing Sunset to take over his neighborhood, filed a request last summer for updates to Sumner’s zoning code.

Oswood, with the support of three dozen other residents, wants the city to require the dealership to go through a public vetting of any future expansion. Currently, the city grants outright permits with little notice to neighbors.

The proposed changes approved by the Planning Commission include restricting expansion to 180 feet from the current zoning line, requiring Sunset to build an 8-foot masonry wall between the dealership and homes, banning the outdoor public address system, and adding more than 100 on-site parking spaces.

Planning Commission members went even further than what city staff recommended. They propose limiting nearby street parking to people with residential parking permits. Residents have fought Sunset employees and customers for spots in a three-hour parking zone on West Main Street.

Sunset wants improved parking just as much as neighboring homeowners do. Owner Phil Mitchell said that’s the primary reason for another expansion.

Mitchell said the project wouldn’t require building new structures, only demolishing a house and paving the area.

Mitchell said Thursday that some of the proposed restrictions, if approved, would make it “tougher to do business” and create additional costs for the dealership.

“It has to be give and take on both sides,” he said. “Hopefully the council and everybody else understands that.”

Sunset isn’t required to adhere to new standards just yet. The City Council will make the final decision.

Before the City Council’s decision, city planning manager Ryan Windish said the issue will go back to planning commissioners.

No representatives from Sunset were present when recommendations were approved Oct. 3. The soonest the proposed changes could be reviewed again is Dec. 5, but an exact date has not been determined. Staff will present amendments to the original proposal, and the commission could vote once more.

Windish said it’s not typical to revisit an issue that’s already been voted on, but this is a sensitive situation that must be handled carefully to ensure a fair outcome. He wants to avoid council members making significant changes later on.

Mitchell said a scheduling conflict kept Sunset representatives from attending the first meeting and that he tried to have the date changed.

Initially, Oswood’s attorney, Cindy Johnson, said the decision granting Sunset representatives a do-over was unfair.

But now she says the City Council would likely hesitate to accept the proposal as is, and the more input from Sunset before a final vote, the better.

“If the record does have Sunset Chevrolet’s input and there is a way to make it more equitable for all the parties moving forward, maybe that’s not such a terrible thing,” Johnson said.

Mitchell echoed the desire for a fair outcome.

“We’ve been in the community for 94 years,” he said, “and we want to have a good relationship with our neighbors.”

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